UNI Global Union General Secretary, Christy Hoffman, says despite the strong anti-union culture in the United States, workers at Big Tech companies are taking collective actions to influence their employers.
Hoffman said employees at Google, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM had all taken collective actions in the past year. These actions, mostly public petitions, have been led by rank and file workers to stop the organization from doing business with agencies of the U.S government linked to the enforcement of offensive immigration laws or drone warfare.
“This is a rare use of worker power. These workers are demanding a voice in the decisions that shape the company’s reputation and want their work to reflect their values” said Hoffman.
The UNI GS gave the following four examples of where collective worker action was challenging business culture:
- Google workers organized to shut down Project Maven, a Pentagon project using artificial intelligence to improve targeting for drone strikes – workers threatened to quit Google if they were forced to work on contract. Google backed down and abandoned its contract with the US military. This month Google workers have once again raised concerns about ethics and transparency over Google’s expected return to China.
- Amazon workers pushing Jeff Bezos to stop selling facial recognition to police departments and government agencies, especially immigration authorities.
- Microsoft workers demanding termination of a $19.4m cloud deal with the immigration authorities.
- IBM workers came together on a platform called coworker.org to demand that the company take a different public tone towards President Trump. The IBM workers also united around the treatment of women by the company.
Hoffman said many young IT professionals are sold the company business model as, “making the world a better place”, and they feel a responsibility to stand up when a company product violates their ethics.
Hoffman added, “These workers say they don’t want to fight one issue at a time. Rather, they want a seat at the table where decisions are made. As one Amazon worker wrote in a letter ‘We demand a choice in what we build, and a say in how it is used.’
“They have learned that only by coming together can tech workers have a voice. Eventually they will need to transform the organizing networks of their campaigns into more formal structures. And my prediction is that this new structure will look something like a union.”
The UNI GS made these remarks during her opening address at the UNI Apro ICTS Organising Forum in Vietnam, where she also underlined the importance of the Asia-Pacific region to organizing in the IT sector.